The Oxford Museum
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The Oxford Museum
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- Oxford, University of Oxford, Museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Geology Museum, history of science, evolution, dinosaurs, Darwinism, Henry Acland, John Ruskin, gothic revival, gothic architecture, Victorian architecture, stonework
Henry W. Acland and John Ruskin.  The Oxford Museum (2010 facsimile by Euston Grove Press). ISBN 9781906267193.
A guided tour through key architectural and design philosophies underpinning the Oxford Museum of Natural History by Henry Acland, who played a key role in the design of the new university science museum in the 1850s. The museum is famous as an architectural wonder, a cathedral to science. The building is famous for the over-imagined skirmish, the Huxley-Wilberforce debate (an event at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Oxford that year to commemorate the museum’s opening.)
In this short book, Acland describes his expectations for the building, nearing completion while he wrote. He also discusses its famous connection to the “Gothic revival” in British Victorian architecture and why it was so important to leave behind its neo-classical predecessor. While guiding readers through some of the building’s chief features, Acland leaves no doubt this was a project meant to combine nature and God; reverence and rigour.
It’s a vision of science and religion that’s largely forgotten today.
Acland appends two 1858-59 letters from John Ruskin. In this correspondence, the great advocate of Gothic design elaborates some of the core principles of that architectural style and design concept, then relates Gothic to Oxford’s museum. This is a superb summary of Gothic Revivalism. Ruskin summarised his ideas in The Nature of Gothic, itself a quick summary of his book, The Stones of Venice.
Acland also adds 1859 correspondence from John Phillips, describing plans to integrate geological materials into the building’s decorative features, such as the many columns, each chosen to sample a type of rock.
First published in 1859
To note: In the original edition, a folding map was inserted between pages 32-33. It is reproduced here on page 126, reduced, but as in the original. A modified, enlarged version appears in this facsimile on pages 124-125, with the key to references on page 123. Advertisements in the end papers of the original appear here on pages 119-122.
Three letters are appended to Acland’s text:
John Ruskin to Henry Acland, no date [1858/9]
John Ruskin to Henry Acland, 20 January 1858
John Phillips to Henry Acland, 21 January 1859
all photographs (front cover and interior pages) by Joe Cain
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